I can't remember whether I've ever mentioned my old college days friend Alessandro before on these pages. He had been studying at UCL while I was just across the road and round the corner at RADA. His family lived then as they probably do now in the city of Palermo, Sicily. I'm not one hundred percent certain exactly how or where we first met. At the pub I think is the most likely location, although it may equally well have been at one of those student parties. It doesn't really matter how it came about; we got on like a house on fire and for the next few terms we were pretty much inseparable. There were of course other friends within our group too, it wasn't an exclusive friendship, but Alessandro and I generally tended to be at the centre of things. This was probably because we shared the same interests: girls, alcohol, girls, theatre, girls, rock music, girls, movies, girls, literature and oh yes, did I mention this - we spent a lot of time thinking about girls!
But as inevitably happens, time moves on: I completed my course at RADA and began looking for work as an actor. We kept in contact with each other for a while but it was never quite the same. Eventually we lost touch altogether. A while later, I heard from a friend that Alessandro had returned home to Sicily. Of course, being Sicilian in the seventies, just a few years on from 'The Godfather' movie, had provided his pals with rich pastures for some good natured ribbing. And which Alessandro, fair play to him, always took in his stride. He could give as good as he got in this area and often referred to me as the 'Welsh pit pony'. I must say, I did occasionally wonder how he always had money in his pocket. Like most students by the end of each term I was pretty much skint, subsisting on white sliced bread and peanut butter. However, Alessandro never seemed to 'run dry' as it were. He would come round to see me and when I said I couldn't go out because I had no money, he'd exclaim, "No problem, pit pony, I will buy you a drink!" He rarely talked about his background and I only recall him confiding in me just the once when we were both a little worse for wear about his family. He claimed to be the son of a Sicilian prince, a fact I swallowed (drunk at the time as I was) with a very large pinch of salt.
From time to time over the years I'd thought about him and wondered what he was up to, then last year, due to the marvel of the internet and social media, he sent me a tweet from his Twitter account to mine: 'Bon Giorno, pit pony! I enjoyed Niedermayer & Hart. Ciao!' it said. I knew who it was at once without bothering to analyse his Twitter name. Anyway, to cut a long story short we were back in touch again. We became friends on Facebook and have started to
tweet at each other regularly. Then about a month ago I received a rather opulent looking envelope through the post that bore a lot of unneccessary gold, swirly lettering and with a large ornate crest of some kind on the back. It was an invitation to a cocktail party at a suite at the Ritz hotel in London. The invitation was from Don Alessandro Giuseppe di Corbera. 'Blimey!' I thought, 'It was all the truth!'
So last week I went to visit my old chum. My wife Judith wasn't able to join me unfortunately because she had a very heavy head cold. I took a copy of my new book Roadrage as a gift for Alessandro. The man at reception directed me to the lift and told me which floor to get off at and how to reach Senor di Corbera's suite from there. I must admit to being very excited at this point. I entered the lift clutching my book under my arm. There was already a passenger in the
lift, a woman but I was so eager to see my friend that I paid her no attention. The doors closed and we started to ascend rapidly only to come to an unusually abrupt and quite shocking stop with a sudden jolt. It wasn't the way I'd imagined the lift at one of London's finest hotels might operate.
We seemed to be dangling in mid air for a moment, then the lights went out, but fortunately after a few seconds we were rescued from complete darkness. It was only then, as the light returned, that I noticed my companion was the famous chat show host Oprah Winfrey.
"This ever happen to you before?" she asked.
"Sorry?" I replied, feeling a bit flummoxed by her remark and rather disorientated by her presence.
"Ever been trapped in an elevator before?" she elucidated.
"No never," I replied.
"That's good to know," she smiled, "If I knew I was stuck in an elevator with some kind of Jonah, I'd consider panicking."
Just then the telephone rang. Still flummoxed, I looked all round trying to locate the thing. Miss Winfrey pointed out the small steel door in the lift wall right next to my shoulder marked 'Telephone'. "Ah, yes, I see," I said sheepishly.
I listened as the nice man from reception assured me they would be getting their maintenance team onto the problem right away. However it might possibly take half an hour.
When I explained what I'd just been told, Miss Winfrey casually slid down the smooth lift wall and sat on the floor,"May as well get comfortable," she said.
I parked myself on the floor alongside her.
"What's that you're holding?" she asked.
"It's a book ... Roadrage ... for a friend," I said.
"Any good?" she asked.
"I hope so!" I said.
"Why, you write the thing or something?" she asked.
"Say, you didn't sabotage the elevator, like Cathy Bates in that Stephen King book?"
I was horrified by the suggestion and shook my head vigorously, "Er, no. 'Course not."
"Mind if I take a look?" she chuckled.
"Er, no, not at all, " I said, immediately handing over the copy.
The man from reception rang about twenty minutes later, and Oprah Winfrey barely looked up when I relayed the bad news and conveyed his profuse apologies that the problem might possibly take a couple of hours to resolve. From then on he tended to ring every half an hour or so to give us little updates on any progress that had been made in securing our release.
At first Miss Winfrey looked only a little annoyed by his interruptions to her reading, but as she neared the book's denouement she waved the back of her hand irritably at the phone when it rang and said, "Tell that guy to stop annoying people!"
Shortly after this, and roughly three hours after we'd first been trapped together, Miss Winfrey closed the book and smiled, "Congratulations," she said, before adding, "Say, do you know that back home I run a book club?"
I nodded and answered with some diffidence that I did.
"Well when I get back home this book is going to be my b...."
I wondered why her words faded at that moment and her voice was suddenly replaced by my wife's, "Oh, Mart, that cup of tea I left on your desk has gone cold!"
"Huh?" I looked around confusedly.
"What on earth have you been doing? Staring out the window, letting cups of tea go cold! I thought you were writing a letter to the bank?
"Oh yes, the letter to the bank ..."
"You were far away ... what were you thinking about anyhow?"
"Oh, oh, nothing," I fibbed.
Tapocketa ... Tapocketa ... Tapocketa ....